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Today in Washington – June 15, 2010

The President will address the nation from the Oval Office this evening.  Like many of the President’s actions during the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, this speech may be a day late and a dollar short.  President Obama will have to explain why he has not taken responsibility for his slow and distracted response to the crisis and avoid his natural urge to blame to others for his own shortcomings.  As Mitt Romney wrote in USA Today, this President needs to take responsibility for his mistakes and perceived distracted response.  Obama seems incapable of being a strong leader who is confident enough in his abilities to admit errors.

In a time of national crisis, we look to our president to acknowledge, as Harry Truman did, that it is at his desk where the buck stops.

The Senate will have a vote on three judicial nominations today and continue work on the Tax Extenders/Unemployment Insurance extension bill.  The House will vote on a bill to create a bailout program for small business, TARP, Jr.  The House and Senate will meet in a conference committee to work out a deal on the financial services deform bill.   

There is one big issue for Conservatives to watch today in Washington and it is President Obama’s Address to Nation this evening.  The New York Times reports today:

Mr. Obama will speak to Americans from the Oval Office, a setting that past presidents have often used but which Mr. Obama never has, despite the gravity of the issues his administration has already faced, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the president’s signature domestic initiative, overhauling the health care system.” 

The pre-spin on the speech has already begun and some common points have come out.  Expect the following talking points to be parroted by the President:

  • Starting Today, The Buck Stops Here - Expect the President to tell stories from his infrequent trips to the Gulf.  Obama will say that he now understands the American people’s anger and frustration with Washington’s slow response to the crisis.  The President is expected to make excuses and to argue that change takes time.  The President will declare that he is in charge, yet not to blame for past mistakes.
  • President Bush is Partially Responsible – Expect the President to blame his predecessor George W. Bush in an effort to shift blame.  This Administration has blamed Bush for the slow economy and is expected to do more blame shifting with regard to weak oversight and the expansion of drilling in the Gulf.  Obama will strongly imply that President Bush set the table for the spill.
  • BP is Bad - The President is prone to populist rage against big business and expect BP to take the brunt of the blame for the crisis.  Millions of gallons of oil will spill into the Gulf during the President’s speech, yet he will take no blame for his lack of action on that issue.  To date, the President has not had a discussion with the CEO of BP Tony Hayward.
  • I Care and I Am Also a Victim - The President talk extensively about his fact finding missions to the gulf and we will empathize with the people harmed by the disaster.  

Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post argues today that there was nothing Obama could do and he is a victim of this crisis.  Applebaum writes:

In the Gulf of Mexico, plumes of black oil are gushing into the ocean, coating the wings of seabirds, poisoning shellfish, sending tar balls rolling onto white Florida beaches. It is an ecological disaster. It is a economic nightmare. And there is absolutely nothing that the American president can do about it. Nothing at all.  Here is the hard truth: The U.S. government does not possess a secret method for capping oil leaks. Even the combined wisdom of the Obama inner circle — all of those Harvard economists, silver-tongued spin doctors and hardened politicos — cannot prevent tens of thousands of tons of oil from pouring out of hole a mile beneath the ocean surface.”  

In an effort to protect a President who has done little publicly to respond to the crisis, the left will argue, and the President is likely to say, that there was nothing the Obama Administration could do to prevent oil from hitting sensitive ecological coastlines in Louisiana. 

More Applebaum excuse making.  “Other than proximity to the Louisiana coast, this catastrophe has nothing in common with Hurricane Katrina: That was an unstoppable natural disaster that turned into a human tragedy because of an inadequate government response. This is just an unstoppable disaster, period. It will be a human tragedy precisely because no government response is possible.”  The fact of the matters is that if “no government response is possible,” then the President should say so.  Most Americans would say that this President showed relative indifference to the crisis in the first few weeks and his attitude was inadequate.  Inadequate seems to be the most appropriate characterization of the President’s response.  

Mitt Romney said it well when he wrote for USA Today:

Has it come to this again? The president is meeting with his oil spill experts, he crudely tells us, so that he knows “whose ass to kick.” We have become accustomed to his management style — target a scapegoat, assign blame and go on the attack. To win health care legislation, he vilified insurance executives; to escape bankruptcy law for General Motors, he demonized senior lenders; to take the focus from the excesses of government, he castigated business meetings in Las Vegas; and to deflect responsibility for the deepening and lengthening downturn, he blames Wall Street and George W. Bush. But what may make good politics does not make good leadership. And when a crisis is upon us, America wants a leader, not a politician.

President Obama and his allies are very good at creating the bad guy from greedy insurance executives to the “fat cats” on Wall Street. 

Romney points to Rudy Giuliani as an example of a leader who camped out at the area of the crisis after 9/11 and showed a quality of leadership that President Obama lacks — a hands on approach that proved Mayor Guiliani to be in charge:

We saw leadership on Sept. 11, 2001. Then as now, black billows seemed to come from the center of the earth. Lives had been lost. The environmental impact was immeasurable. The looming economic impact from lost tourism was incalculable. Into the crisis walked Rudy Giuliani. While that was an incomparable human tragedy, how the mayor led New York City to recover is a useful model for the president.  Rudy camped out at Ground Zero — he didn’t hole up in his office or retreat to his residence. His presence not only reassured the people of New York that someone was in charge, it also enabled the mayor to assess the situation firsthand, to take the measure of the people he had on the ground, and to understand the scope of the crisis.  The president has many critical matters that demand his attention, but brief and tardy tours and being photographed with a smudge of oil on a sandy beach don’t work on any level. There is no substitute for being there.

The bottom line is that one Oval Office speech does not a response make.  President Obama should tell the American people that he is sorry for his perceived indifference, he will take charge of the situation now, he will camp out in Louisiana for the next few weeks to study an appropriate response and he has a plan to both cap the spill and clean up the coastline.  Blaming others is not appropriate and the President needs to take this opportunity tonight to provide a little hope and change for the people of America.

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